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Family Vacation - Driving from Chicago to Orlando

Updated on August 23, 2017

Driving from Naperville, Illinois to Orlando, Florida

We have been to Orlando, Florida for the last three years.

On our second trip to Orlando, we drove from Naperville, Illinois. The year before we flew on United Airlines and this year we flew on Southwest. This page depicts our driving trip, some things we saw along the way, somes tools we used to get from Naperville to Orlando, and my usual ramblings along the way.

We don't take the normal driving routes to Florida, we look for fun things to see along the way or stop and do. We normally try to visit some type of cave or historic battlefield. This trip provided one of each.

This lens was selected as Lens of the Day on August 3rd, 2010.

Vacation Planning

this starts months, maybe even a year ahead of time

We vacationed in Orlando, FL last year and decided we wanted to vacation there again the following year.

There are some must answer questions when deciding on a vacation:

1. Where do you want to go? Orlando

2. When do you plan for the vacation? Late July or Early August

3. How long do you want to stay there? 4-7 days

4. What do you want to see while there? This will help determine the length of stay.

5. How are you going to get there? Drive from Chicago to Orlando

These are the big questions. Once you answer these questions, you can start planning your trip. For example, we knew we wanted to go to Universal Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom, we knew we were going after the end of our childrens summer sports and before the next school year started. We were driving and there were other things to do if we could extend our stay.

In January, we started looking for deals to the various places we wanted to go, deals for park admissions, combo hotel/park admissions, all-inclusivies, etc. We ended up with a Universal package that include 5 nights at a hotel and park admissions to Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.

The year before, we found cheap flights on United Airlines and decided to fly down, we then rented a house with a pool, and bought our tickets online.

6. If Drive, how many days will you take? 2-3 days

7. Can you see everything? No, probably not. So we made a list and prioritized.

8. Where are you going to stay? Hotel, Motel, Friends House. Check out HotelsCombined and Search multiple sites at the same time.

Route Planning

When driving, plan your route ahead of time, but be flexible...

We've done the driving thing once before, and I planned the whole trip out. Tools like GoogleMaps and MapQuest are great when doing this. This trip to Orlando, we decided we would have city goals and determine where we wanted to stop along the way. Good thing we did!

One question you have to answer as a family is how long do you want to drive per day, and it is a family question. Our family can handle 5-8 hours of driving per day. On an 18 hour trip to Orlando, that means two stops. The question is where do you stop and when. When we stop, we try to stop somewhere we know we will do something the next morning before driving again. We do like to SEE AMERICA!

We don't necessarily take the most direct route, because part of the fun of driving is seeing America. Whether it's a cavern or cave in the mountains, or the 20 foot Superman statue in Metropolis, IL, it is a lot of fun to go off the beaten path.

For this trip on the way to Orlando, Florida, we were planning to stop in Knoxville, Tennessee, Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida (This stop was necessary do to the fact our hotel reservations in Orlando were from Tuesday thru Sunday and we started our trip on Saturday.) It also made sense, since we stopped and visited family in Jacksonville and didn't have to stay in a hotel.

On the way home to Naperville, Illinois we were planning to stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Metropolis, Illinois.

Places to Stop Between Chicago and Orlando

Here are some of the places we have stopped between Chicago and Orlando:

1. Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia

2. Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tennessee

3. Metropolis, Illinois (home of Superman)

4. Elijah Gem Mine in Hendersonville, North Carolina

5. Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee

6. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home and Final Resting Place in Atlanta, Georgia

show route and directions
A markerHome -
Naperville, IL
get directions

B markerFlat Tire, had to stop -
London, KY
get directions

C markerVisited Ft Pulaski -
Savannah, GA
get directions

D markerDisney World, Universal Studios, Sea World -
Orlando, FL
get directions

E markerRuby Falls -
Chattanooge, TN
get directions

F markerGiant Superman Statue -
Metropolis, IL
get directions

G markerElijah Mountain Gem Mine -
2120 Brevard Road, Hendersonville, NC 28739
get directions

Be prepared, If you don't have one of these...

On Friday night before leaving on our trip, we drove down to my wife's parents house and they surprised us with a Garmin NUVI. If you don't have a navigation system in your car or don't already have one, go get one.

The Garmin NUVI not only helps you with your route, it also allows you to look for restaurants when your hungry, or hotels when you are ready to stop.

The navigation was almost perfect, a couple of times it did say go the wrong direction, but this was mainly in construction zones. You want to know for the most part, where you are going and the Garmin will help you get there.

As for the Garmin, I was very please with the size of the screen, the directions, and how up to date the information was. The model we have only has a car adapter, so you can only charge the battery through the car.

I'm not sure how we would have done the trip without it, and it was worth every penny.

If you have kids, Make sure you have one of these

We have had our portable DVD player for years and just love it for long trips. If you don't have one in your vehicle, there are many portable models. We have four children so a dual screen system to allow everyone in the van to see the movie is a must. The screens hang from the back of the seats and provide a great distraction on the long trips.

Check out these places to stop between Naperville, IL and Orlando, FL

First Stop ... Gem Mining

If you haven't done this, take and hour or two and stop at a Gem mine...

I was planning to get closer to Knoxville than I did, so we didn't end up Gem Mining until the end of the second day instead of the beginning of the second day.

The reason we didn't end up closer, was a flat tire. UGH!!! It's 6pm at night, it's been raining for about an hour, we had already stopped to eat, so I was ready to make it to Knoxville. As I'm going down the mountain or up the mountain, I couldn't really tell in the rain in Kentucky, the low tire pressure light illuminates. So being a guy, I continue to drive, and then it downpours, and I decide, it's time to stop for the night. So we pull into the hotel, and I get out of the van, and walk around, and yep, the indicator wasn't lying, there's the tire half flag hissing away. Now being Saturday evening in London, Kentucky, and raining, I'm glad I have my Toyota Roadside Assistance plan. I call them up and they send out a service to change my flat. (Note that the Roadside plans don't fix things) After my tire was changed, did I mention it was raining, I asked the guy if he knew where I could get the tire fixed or replaced. Long story short, I followed the guy back to his shop and they fixed my flat and remounted the tire. After I paid the guy $10 for fixing the flat, and tipped him $10 for doing it on a Saturday night, and tipped the guy that originally came out another $10 for changing my tire in the rain, I felt pretty good about the whole experience. So if your ever in London, Kentucky and need some help with your vehicle, look up the guys at >>> <<<<

The next day, we are off to the Elijah Mountain Gem Mine near Asheville, North Carolina. If you've never been Gem Mining, here's the concept, you get a bucket of dirt and using water, you wash all the dirt off and what is left should be, rocks and gems and things. You never know what your going to get and sometimes you get nothing. So, if you don't want to get nothing, then you go to Elijah's, where they have premade buckets with gems already in them. They also have buckets with Indian Artifacts and Fossils. Not really prospecting here, but the kids have a lot of fun as the sand sifts away and they see multi-colored gemstones. This stop was a few miles off of the expressway into Asheville. Other gem mines are off the beaten path a ways, so it depends on how much time you have to get to your next destination.

Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia

A Civil War Fort

Being from the Chicagoland area and being of Polish decent, the chicagoland area celbrates Casimir Pulaski day, when I found Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia, it was a no brainer to stop.

Casimir Pulaski was a General in the American Revolutionary War. Fort Pulaski was built by the Confederate Army prior to the Civil War.

Fort Pulaski will take you about 2 hours to walk through, they have a lot of civil war cannons on the premises and they do fire cannons and have exhibitions almost every day. The $10 yearly pass was well worth the entry into this National Monument.

For more information, visit the National Park Service site on Fort Pulaski.

If you have the time and like the old Forts, you pass Fort Jackson on the way to Fort Pulaski.

Pictures from Fort Pulaski

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Picture of Moat outside of Ft PulaskiBridge across moat to go inside Ft PulaskiCanon in courtyardNathan in front on CanonOlivia in canon wheelDad enjoying the viewGirls posing in front of canonDad and Olivia in Fort Pulaski's jailAnother pose of the girlsPicture of Ft Pulaski courtyard
Picture of Moat outside of Ft Pulaski
Picture of Moat outside of Ft Pulaski
Bridge across moat to go inside Ft Pulaski
Bridge across moat to go inside Ft Pulaski
Canon in courtyard
Canon in courtyard
Nathan in front on Canon
Nathan in front on Canon
Olivia in canon wheel
Olivia in canon wheel
Dad enjoying the view
Dad enjoying the view
Girls posing in front of canon
Girls posing in front of canon
Dad and Olivia in Fort Pulaski's jail
Dad and Olivia in Fort Pulaski's jail
Another pose of the girls
Another pose of the girls
Picture of Ft Pulaski courtyard
Picture of Ft Pulaski courtyard

Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tennessee - we love exploring caves

We love caves. This year on the way home from Orlanda, Florida we stopped in Chattanooga, Tennessee at Ruby Falls. Ruby Falls is a waterfall that is under the mountain. The only way to get to it is by taking an elevator 200 feet under the earth and walking about 2/5 of a mile to the water fall. Of course, this is all part of a tour that takes you there.

For more information about visit the Ruby Falls website.

If enclosed places frightens you, just take a look at the pictures below.

Metropolis, Illinois

Home of the giant Superman Statue

So, I must admit, I planned the stop here, just to see the 20 foot Superman statue. Metropolis, Illinois.

Besides the statue, there is a Superman store in Metropolis. The store has a lot of Superman memorabilia and a small Superman Museum. The second weekend of every June is devoted to the annual Superman celebration. And the current website shows a picture of President Barak Obama posed with Superman.

Metropolis, Illinois is located on the Ohio river on Interstate 24 just north of Paducah, Kentucky. Metropolis has a casino and not too far is Fort Massac. If I were the Metropolis chamber of commerce, I would look to have a statue of every super hero and a store for every super hero. Who wouldn't want to visit the Wonder Women store, or a store dedicated to Aquaman, Batman and Robin, or the Green Lantern.

Yes, the Superman statue and store were well worth the stop in Metropolis, Illinois.

Pictures from Metropolis, Illinois

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Nathan as SupergirlOlivia as SupermanGiant Superman in front of Metropolis, IL city hall.Another Superman statue in Metropolis, IllinoisClark Kent and Lois Lane in Metropolis, Illinois
Nathan as Supergirl
Nathan as Supergirl
Olivia as Superman
Olivia as Superman
Giant Superman in front of Metropolis, IL city hall.
Giant Superman in front of Metropolis, IL city hall.
Another Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois
Another Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois
Clark Kent and Lois Lane in Metropolis, Illinois
Clark Kent and Lois Lane in Metropolis, Illinois

Country Music Hall of Fame

Nashville, TN

In 2012, on our drive to Orlando, Florida, we stopped at the Country Music Hall of Fame. We are a family of country music fans, so stopping here was a no brainer. It took us about two hours to explor the Hall of Fame, but without kids, we probably could have taken another two hours. We happened to be their during the Taylor Swift exhibit, which was just awesome. The Elvis Presley Gold Cadillac is a must see, along with the silver dollar car.

Seeing the evolution of country music and how it evolved from radio to television was fastinating. They had a great montage of country music stars and the evolution from being an act in a show to being the whole show such as Hee Haw and Donnie and Marie.

For country music fans, this is a must see on the way to Florida.

Pictures from the Country Music Hall of Fame - Nashville, TN

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Martin Luther King Childhood Home and Final Resting Place

Atlanta, Georgia

In 2012, we also stopped at the MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. On the site is the childhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr preached along with his father and grandfather. Also on the site is the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta King Scott.

When you first walk into the complex, you are greeted with statue of Gandhi, and come to learn that Martin Luther King, Jr. studied peaceful demonstrations under Gandhi in India. The visitors center is a great place to see the timeline of when Martin Luther King, Jr. started his demonstrations to his untimely death and funeral procession.

Pictures from MLK Historic Site - Atlanta, Georgia

Click thumbnail to view full-size
100 Flavors of Popcorn
100 Flavors of Popcorn

100 Flavors of Popcorn

As we travel, we are always looking for something unique that you don't find at every exit of the highway. Just over the Tennessee line in Calhoun, Georgia, we found a store that sells over one hundred flavors of popcorn called Popcorn Haven. When we stopped, we tried the dark chocolate popcorn, the white cheddar popcorn, and the cola popcorn. I liked the cola popcorn the best as the flavor reminded me of the cola bottlecaps. My kids however, liked the chocolate popcorn. The popcorn was excellent and with over 97 other flavors to try, we will be stopping there again.

We are no rookies to popcorn, as my son has been selling boy scouts popcorn, and I have been the pack's popcorn kernel for the last two years.

What we have done in Orlando, Florida

Places to go in Orlando Florida

This was our second trip to Orlando, Florida. The first time we flew and rented a house with a pool. The second trip we drove. The following are the places we have been to, in and around Orlando. If I had to rate the places in order, this is what I would do

#1 - Sea World

#2 - Animal Kingdom in Disney World

#3 - Kennedy Space Center

#4 - Florida Beaches

#5 - Universal Studios at Universal or Hollywood Studios at Disney

#6 - Magic Kingdom in Disney World

#7 - Islands of Adventure at Universal

#8 - Wet N Wild

Sea World in Orlando, Florida

I have come to the conclusion that we are animal people. Being animal people, Sea World is probably our favorite place to visit in Orlando, Florida. Between the shows and the rides, what a great experience. We had dinner with Shamoo one evening, which is a great dinner show without leaving the park.

Disney World in Florida

We have visited three parks in Disney World and never have stayed on site. The three parks we visite were Magic Kingdom in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2009, and Hollywood Studios in 2010. Being animal people, I would have to say Animal Kingdom is our second favorite attraction in Orlando, Florida, with Hollywood Studios being our second favorite park.

For the younger kids, ages 2 thru 8, Magic Kingdom would be my preferred choice.

Disney really knows what they are doing with the Fast Pass system. It's a great solution for those long lines. Another solution for the long lines is pin trading, so make sure to invest in a pin album and stock up on some pins.

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

My daughter enjoyed this book and said it is a must read before visiting any of the Disney World parks in Orlando, Floriday.

Kennedy Space Center

This is probably my third favorite attraction near Orlando, Florida. The buses out to see the launch pads and Apollo spacecraft are just sensational. And don't miss the Launch Experience which was a lot of fun.

The Florida Beaches

We have visited two beaches in Florida. Daytona Beach since we wanted the experience of driving on a beach, and a beach just south of Sebastian Inlet State Park.

For the kids, they didn't care, they just love the ocean, the sand, the waves, boogie boards, swimming, looking for seashells.

If you like crowds and people watching, Daytona Beach is for you.

If you don't like crowds, travel south of Coco Beach down 1A and pick a beach. The beach we went to was on 1A just after Sebastian Inlet State Park. There's a small public parking area with beach access.

Universal in Orlando, Florida

This year, we visited three Universal parks in Orlando, Florida:

Universal Studios

Islands of Adventure

Wet N Wild.

We had a great time at each, but the parks are definitely geared towards those folks that spend the extra money to stay at the Universal resorts or buy their Express Pass. Definitely factor in the Express Pass into your budget, if not, I wouldn't bother with these parks. Disney definitely has a leg up with their FastPass system.

I think the kids liked Islands of Adventure, whereas I preferred Universal Studios. So, I guess, I couldn't pick one.

Websites that offer great hotel deals

Hotelscombined.com compares over 30 sites for hotels in and around Disney and Orlando, Florida.

Where's a fun place you have stopped along your route? - We could all use a little help...

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    • Mommy-Bear profile image

      Mommy-Bear 4 years ago

      Great lens. I'm hoping to do a major road trip with two kids in the next year or so. I guess I'd better start planning it.

    • profile image

      LadyDuck 4 years ago

      I love vacation trip by car, with my husband we went from Oklahoma City to Santa Fe, we made a lot of stops visiting interesting places. I love to travel.

    • OrlandoTipster profile image

      OrlandoTipster 5 years ago

      I remember growing up on road trips we use to see who would see Volkswagen bugs.

    • ILoveLegosToo profile image
      Author

      Tom Fattes 5 years ago from Naperville, IL

      @OrlandoTipster: That's a great question since you need to do things sitting down and which hold attention for a long time. The DVD player is great because besides movies you can put educational shows on the player. Portable Video Games are a great option as well, but I'm thinking you are looking for something without a screen. A search for games in the car will yield a lot of results. I remember searching for different license plates and following our progress on a map. Another option is books, if you get carsick like me, then books on tape may be an option.

    • OrlandoTipster profile image

      OrlandoTipster 5 years ago

      What would recommend for kids to do on long drives besides to dvd players?

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 5 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      We once drove from Western BC to Northern Arizona and then back again with our young daughter and the family dog. It was a trip of a lifetime - I love road trips.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      This is definitely a learning trip for the kids, and you presented very well.

      Love the lens

    • profile image

      awayb 5 years ago

      Nice vacation...love to travel by car also...

    • ShariBerry profile image

      Sharon Berry 5 years ago from Michigan

      My husband and I did a road trip from Michigan to Yellowstone National Park, down to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and back. So much to see in the USA. I love America. I loved reading about your trip. Thanks.

    • profile image

      familienhotel 6 years ago

      Family Hotel is the best for travelling with the family.

    • laki2lav profile image

      laki2lav 6 years ago

      I did a trip from Toledo, ohio number of times, but never stopped on those places. Maybe I'll have to retake the trip soon. thanks for the info.

    • ScareYouDiva profile image

      ScareYouDiva 6 years ago

      Our family always stopped for caves. Mammoth caves was worth its own full day, and was a nice in-between distance for a driving break.

    • zimbali2011 profile image

      zimbali2011 6 years ago

      Nice photos :)

    • profile image

      trippste 6 years ago

      My kids love the portable DVD player, I don't know what we would do without it!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      We really enjoyed your site. My family lives in NWI and we are going to take your advise and stop at Elijah Mountain on the way to Orlando...Thanks!!!

    • phuketbooknow profile image

      phuketbooknow 6 years ago

      Nice lens for when i plan to go to USA. thank you

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Orlando

    • TheRatRaceRebel1 profile image

      TheRatRaceRebel1 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your family vacation from Chicago to Orlando with all of us. Looks like you had a ton of fun along the way. You either deserve an award for bravery or a trip to the nut house for doing it though... LOL

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Nice Squidoo. I really enjoy reading what you wrote about. Chris

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What a great website! Thanks for all the helpful advice. We are planning on driving to Orlando this year. We're from Joliet so the distance will be about the same.

    • Tagsforkids profile image

      Tagsforkids 7 years ago

      Living in Florida we've covered just about all of it at one time or another. I agree about the Garmin NUVI as we love ours. Mad Maps even makes a downloadable guide for "scenic tours" and out of the way roadside attractions. Great fun for travelling if you're not on a strict time schedule.

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 7 years ago

      The year we went back home to Indiana by way of Memphis, TN. Elvis baby! LOL

    • profile image

      TheDisneyVacation 7 years ago

      Portable DVD is going to be your best buddy on a long drive if you have kids=)

      Nice lens!

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 7 years ago from USA

      Well, I live in Florida, and did when I was a kid, over 50 years ago. We always loved South of the Border, but Monkey Jungle and my favorite Alligator Farm are long gone. I always loved the drive, which was from Cleveland, OH to Florida. In St. Augustine, there is a museum I loved, but you hit some places I haven't been. Love the falls photos! Congratulations on a well-deserved LotD!

    • burgessvillian profile image

      burgessvillian 7 years ago

      I was young when we went to Florida. We drove from Ontario, Canada. I think I enjoyed the Smithsonian Institute the best. Congrats on getting lotd.

    • nebby profile image

      nebby 7 years ago from USA

      Looks like everyone had so much fun!! Congrats on LOTD.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 7 years ago from USA

      Congrats on LotD!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Nicely done, good documentation. I tell people all the time, traveling with kids (and vacations in general) should be educational - great job.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      *-*Blesses*-* and features on Lenses That Shine

    • scrapperkare profile image

      scrapperkare 7 years ago

      Love, love, love this lens! Brought back memories, too, since I used to live not far from Naperville (West Chicago) AND I grew up less than an hour from Ruby Falls -- yet never visited it, can you believe that?? Your daughter's duckbill photo is a hoot!!! Thanks for sharing . . .

    • Airinka profile image

      Airinka 7 years ago

      i liked this lens. very cute pics.

    • profile image

      okie_dokie 7 years ago

      @ILoveLegosToo: Thanks for the advice.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Traveling with kids can be great fun with a little pre-planning. Depending on the age of the child...it is always good to be ready with some car games...like car bingo where they mark down things they see along the way...that one is fun for all ages. I also try to do a little research about the towns and states we will pass and at various stops impart the information to the kids. Every new state we pass they learn state motto, flower, bird, etc.

      Thanks for a great lens.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 7 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      Looks like you had a wonderful vacation. Great lens and congrats on LOTD

    • ILoveLegosToo profile image
      Author

      Tom Fattes 7 years ago from Naperville, IL

      @okie_dokie: Certain parts. My kids were 5, 7, 10, and 12 on the driving trip. The DVD player was a must.

      I think GEM mining is great, a lot of oohs and ahhhs. Pulaski Fort has a lot of space to run around and explore and climb on the cannons and such. We spent the night in Metropolis and went downtown that morning. With the 3 &amp; 4 year old, it will be a quick 10 minutes to see the statue and a couple of other things and you're done. I think the Superman store wouldn't amuse them as much as it did me and my 7 year old son.

      Ruby Falls is cool and takes about an hour to see the falls. A lot of neat rock formations which me or may not entertain a 3 &amp; 4 year old.

    • profile image

      okie_dokie 7 years ago

      I am also near Chicago. Would you recommend this road trip with a 7, 4 and 3 year old?

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 7 years ago

      Me and my family have been planning a road trip to Orlando. I do hope we could do that this year and make sure that we do drop by the places you have been to.

    • profile image

      seegreen 7 years ago

      I love long road trips, we've taken quite a few. I can't believe I've never seen, or even knew about the giant superman. We've driven through Paducah plenty of times.

    • ILoveLegosToo profile image
      Author

      Tom Fattes 7 years ago from Naperville, IL

      @Faye Rutledge: Thanks partybuzz. I think Metropolis missed the boat by focusing on Superman. They should have stores and status for Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Batman and Robin, Fantastic Four. the list could go on and on.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 7 years ago from Concord VA

      My son attended the Superman Celebration this year. He went with a friend who was actually a guest there (Jimmy Valiant). They had a great time, especially since my son is a long time comic book fan! Great lens! Congratulations on LotD! You're super!

    • profile image

      NoyVanNdaroe 7 years ago

      We rarely go to vacation because i have a lot of works in office...

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      we are planning to have a long trip going to orlando florida by the end of this month, i will follow your trails here. thank you i got more ideas how to go there with 4 kids and not being bored just driving.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      Nice lens and good information. 5*